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Official, friend of Aquino leaves post after accusations by media

MANILA -- A close friend of Philippine President Benigno Aquino quit as a junior minister on Tuesday after he was accused in the local media of trying to enter the home of an official killed in a plane crash.

Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno said he was resigning to give deceased Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo's replacement a free hand in running the crucial ministry.

Puno, known as a close friend of Aquino, also denied accusations that he had tried to tamper with Robredo's documents a day after the minister died in the plane crash on Aug. 18.

“I believe that I have carried out my assigned duties to the best of my ability,” he added.

Puno was accused by television stations of trying to enter Robredo's condominium a day after the minister was killed, with media speculating that he was possibly looking for documents that might link him to anomalies.

Aquino, however, later defended Puno, saying he had instructed the undersecretary to secure Robredo's offices immediately following the plane crash at sea.

Despite Aquino leaping to Puno's defence, critics had accused the junior minister of other wrongdoing and a senator critical of Aquino announced she would hold public hearings into Puno's official actions on Friday.

Robredo, a popular reformist advocate who was in charge of the national police and local government units, is believed to have been probing possible corruption and collusion in the ministry.

In his resignation statement, Puno said he introduced reforms “to ensure full transparency of procurement and bidding processes” — an apparent reference to allegations he had approved questionable supply contracts for the police.

Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that resignation “would put to rest all these accusations ... that undersecretary Puno is close to the president and is being coddled.” He added: “That's not true.”

Robredo is to be replaced by veteran politician Mar Roxas, who has said he wants to bring in his own people to man the interior ministry.

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